“How Targeted Nutrition May One Day Eliminate Your Breast Cancer Risk”

Purchased this in 2007! #aheadofmytime

“Essentially, “nutrigenomics” is the study of the effects of foods and food constituents on gene expression. Identifying the effects of individual nutrients or an entire nutritional plan based on an individual’s genotype allows for a customized nutritional “prescription” targeting unique and specific health needs. | What I love about nutrigenomics is the focus on wellness and prevention rather than the treatment of disease. While nutrigenomics is not yet mainstream, consumer awareness and demand combined with robust scientific evidence (the ability to replicate studies) is moving us toward the day when a prescription for a targeted eating plan will be as common as a prescription for penicillin.”  – Cathy Leman, MA, RD, LD

Nutrigenomics [nutri-gen-O-mics] is a term that may be new to you, and why wouldn’t it be?

Unless you’re steeped in the world of nutrition (and genetics) and prevention, nutrigenomics wouldn’t necessarily be on your radar, yet it’s a fascinating area of nutrition and I’m excited to give you a quick introduction here.

My first experience with nutrigenomics was somewhere in the early 2000’s when I attended a workshop on functional nutrition. I’ll never forget how Ruth DeBusk, PhD, RD (a nutrigenomics guru, btw) shared the concept of using nutrition to “switch” certain genes off and on. I was captivated by what that could mean for the future of nutrition and disease management and prevention, and my work continues to be influenced by that idea today.

Consider this. A simple DNA cheek swab reveals breast cancer genes that could be modified with targeted dietary advice. What if that advice was simply to eat an apple every day, because nutritional constituents identified in that apple were known to reduce or eliminate that particular individual’s risk of developing breast cancer. For someone else, the same cheek swab reveals apples INCREASE the risk of developing breast cancer. Advice to skip the apple and eat the fruit(s) identified to decrease risk would be life-changing.

Can you imagine?

Essentially, nutrigenomics is the study of the effects of foods and food constituents on gene expression. Identifying the effects of individual nutrients or an entire nutritional plan based on an individual’s genotype allows for a customized nutritional “prescription” targeting unique and specific health needs.

What I love about nutrigenomics is the focus on wellness and prevention rather than the treatment of disease. While nutrigenomics is not yet mainstream, consumer awareness and demand combined with robust scientific evidence (the ability to replicate studies) is moving us toward the day when a prescription for a targeted eating plan will be as common as a prescription for penicillin.  

At the recent Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics conference, I attended “Nutrigenomics: Is It Ready for Prime Time?”, presented by Ahmed El-Sohemy, PhD, adjunct professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto, and the Canada Research Chair in Nutrigenomics, who outlined a solid argument for why we should even “bother” to consider nutrition and genetics/genomics.

Quite simply, one nutritional protocol does not fit all.

Take caffeine, one example highlighted during the talk. Depending on an individual’s genotype (the underlying genetic information encoded in a chromosome), caffeine can have an increased, decreased, or zero effect on health outcomes. If you’re someone who experiences elevated blood pressure or heart rate when you eat or drink anything with caffeine – wouldn’t you want to know more about how to manage that?

For now, we use broad nutrition recommendations supported by research that, while effective,  aren’t always as targeted as we’d like. The idea of applying nutritional recommendations that match each person’s health needs is absolute nirvana to me. I simply can’t wait until that’s the norm in how we practice dietetics.

Until then, stay tuned for more on the topic of nutrigenomics. The implications for each of us in taking control of our health is monumental.

FYI, a couple of recommendations for further reading on this topic, both penned by Dr. DeBusk, RD:

“Genetics The Nutrition Connection”   |  “It’s Not Just Your Genes”

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